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Howard County Youth Program cancels recreation baseball, softball seasons due to coronavirus pandemic

The Howard County Youth Program has canceled its recreation baseball and softball seasons amid the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1,200 kids were signed up to play this spring at HCYP’s Kiwanis-Wallas Park in Ellicott City, but the spread of coronavirus and the continued safety guidelines from state and local governments pushed the youth program to cancel the season.

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“We knew if we could get back on the field in a safe manner that it would give people some hope that we’re on our way to recovering,” said HCYP recreation baseball commissioner Joel Zolnier. “During times like this, sports and baseball are secondary to health and safety. But we also know that in times of crisis, sports are often that sign of normalcy and can provide comfort.”

HCYP recreation baseball, which had about 1,000 players registered, announced its decision on May 9. Teams, similar to high school programs, started practicing on Feb. 29. The season was supposed to begin March 20 before it was postponed. Zolnier said the goal was to start the season in mid-to-late May and have the season end in early July, but with Wallas Park closed by Howard County Recreation and Parks through the end of the month, holding a large-scale recreation season wasn’t possible.

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“We didn’t want to push the season back that much,” he said. “We gave it our best shot, and we had to make the decision.”

Softball, which has fewer players and competes in alliance with youth leagues from Elkridge, Arbutus and the Atholton community, canceled on May 11. Recreation softball commissioner Brian Schaeffer said he was hoping the league could start on May 16, but with the park closed, in addition to social distancing guidelines, that wasn’t possible.

“We view HCYP as an important part of the community,” Schaeffer said. “Families come to Kiwanis-Wallas Park to watch and participate in baseball and softball games and practices and go to the concessions stand. That’s a big part of the spring and summer for literally thousands of families in this area. To not have that is deeply disappointing.”

Last week, HCYP, a nonprofit organization that started as a little league for youth baseball players in 1952, sent surveys out to parents for what they wanted to do with their registration fee — a refund, a credit for a future season or donate to HCYP.

“The support has been tremendous,” Zolnier said. “We’re still in process with that, but I’m taken aback by the generosity of our community. This really is a family.”

While the recreation seasons are canceled, HCYP’s 25 travel baseball programs are still waiting for the fates of their seasons and tournaments, according to travel commissioner Ed Manekin. The travel season typically runs on a later schedule than the recreation season, so the local travel leagues are still weighing their options on the 2020 summer season. The HCYP travel teams also play in tournaments across the state and east coast, and some of those events haven’t been canceled yet.

“We’re not pulling the plug on 2020 yet,” said HCYP travel commissioner Ed Manekin. “Some of our leagues are postponed, but they’re still holding out some hope. We’re leaving the option to play in tournaments open to the managers, provided that they have players and families committed and are able to do that in a safe manner.”

The most prominent youth baseball tournament for HCYP travel baseball teams is the Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament in Cooperstown, New York, which was canceled in late March. The tournament, which welcomes nearly 100 under-12 teams to the area for a week-long tournament, is a usually the “highlight” of a youth baseball player’s experience, Manekin said.

“It’s really heartbreaking for me to see these teams that do all these fundraising events, and now they can’t go,” Manekin said. "It’s just sad.”

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